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Xavier v. St. John’s: Preview, players, keys to the game, et c.

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Xavier wraps up the regular season knowing that a win gives them a bye at MSG and a shot at 3rd place in the Big East.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Villanova
If Travis Steele outcoaches this guy, Xavier has a great chance.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

It would be melodramatic to say it all comes down to this. It doesn’t. Win or lose here, Xavier lives to fight another day. The scope of the challenge facing them on that next day, though, depends in great part on what happens on the court today. Xavier strides onto the court at the Cintas winners of five of their last six, but desperate to make that six of seven. Do so, and it takes just three more wins to go dancing. It’s not all on the line today, but there’s a sting waiting in the tail of this season.

Team fingerprint:

There’s precious little these teams don’t know about each other by now. St. John’s is going to push the pace on offense and barely turn the ball over at all. This would be the recipe for a great offense if the Red Storm could shoot, but they can’t. They’ll cede the offensive glass, as well and hope that ball security and pace carry the day.

Defensively St. John’s is going to try to turn Xavier over and block shots. That’s the entirety of what they do well, but they do those things very well. Much like on offense, the Johnnies give up the glass and they’ll send their opponents to the line a lot. Again, though, these teams just met barely a week ago. There won’t be much that comes as a surprise to either coach.

Players

Shamorie Ponds Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Junior Class Junior
6'1" 180 Measurements 6'4", 194
19.8/4.3/5 Game line 11.6/2.9/4.6
45.8/35.5/84.1 Shooting line 37.8/31.1/68
You may have heard of this guy before, given that basically anything St. John's has accomplished over the last three season can be attributed largely to him. He can score, set up his teammates, and creates more steals than anyone in the conference. He has been a little less consistent recently with the miles starting to pile up, but he went for 29 last time out, so it is hard to say he is completely fading.
Justin Simon Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Sophomore
6'5" 205 Measurements 6'3", 200
9.9/5/3.3 Game line 11.9/4.8/3.2
46.8/28.6/61.2 Shooting line 48.1/41.7/76.4
Simon brings length and toughness to the Johnnies backcourt, and his active hands are a part of the reason they are so effective at turning over the opposition. He has regressed a bit on offense from last season, and seems to have given up some of his shots to accommodate Mustapha Heron, which is probably for the better.
LJ Figueroa Small Forward Naji Marshall
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'6" 195 Measurements 6'7", 222
14.4/6.3/1.9 Game line 14.9/6.7/3.3
51.2/37.6/61.9 Shooting line 41.2/28.9/71.7
Figueroa is a JUCO transfer and has been a revelation for St. John's this season, being another cog in their high intensity defensive machine as well as a capable scorer in transition and from beyond the arc. The only real knocks on him are that he is bad at the free throw line, and rarely is going to trouble the team leaders in assists.
Marvin Clark II Power Forward Tyrique Jones
Senior Class Junior
6'7" 225 Measurements 6'9" 235
11.3/5.4/1.4 Game line 11.4/7.8/0.8
41.3/37.4/79.4 Shooting line 62/0/65
Clark has played center most of the season for St. John's, which has created problems for them on defense when opponents force the ball into the post. Clark is a knockdown jumpshooter, who is really not interested in banging underneath the basket at either end, but is required to do so on defense due to personnel limitations.
Josh Roberts Center Zach Hankins
Freshman Class Senior
6'9" 210 Measurements 6'11", 245
1.3/1.7/0.1 Game line 10/5.1/1
43.5/0/0 Shooting line 67.5/0/63.2
Roberts had played 60 minutes all year before picking up 16 against X and 20 more in his first career start at DePaul. He has not missed a shot in those two games, but only 3 boards in a 20 minute foul out is probably enough of a setback to keep us from crowning him the next Hakeem just yet.

Reserves

Out of 353 DI teams, St. John’s ranks 346th in bench minutes this year, which indicates to me that the coach does not put a lot of trust in this group. Or the idea that a person can’t play high pressure defense for 40 minutes and not need a break. Anyway, recently returned from injury Mustapha Heron was a part of this group last game, and had one of his poorer games in 11 minutes of play. When healthy, he is a terrifying compliment to Ponds, hitting 43% of his threes on the year and averaging 15 ppg. Coming of the bench to significantly less herald is Bryan Trimble, who looks like he follows each workout by downing a Big Gulp of gravy. Trimble has been effective in spots in the conference slate, all of those spots being beyond the three point arc, where he is shooting 40% in league play. Speaking of transfers from the SEC (which we were a minute ago whether I told you we were or not), Sedee Keita is a reserve big man with Final Four experience after making it there with South Carolina two years ago. That is likely still his career highlight, as his time at St. John’s has been blighted by injuries and he has struggled for both minutes and effectiveness so far.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier bounce back? The Musketeers dropped their first in six games last time out, and they looked tired doing it. Cumulative fatigue is a very real thing, and both Quentin Goodin and Naji Marshall looked like they were suffering from it. They’ll need to recover their legs for X to run with St. John’s.

- How big a difference does Mustapha Heron make? Heron didn’t play when these teams first met and Xavier won by 11, albeit after an extremely up and down final three minutes. Heron has scored 11 or more 18 times this season. Obviously, it’s not as simple as just pasting in his points, but Heron gives St. John’s a legitimate shooting threat who can stay on the floor with Ponds.

- Can Travis Steele outscheme Chris Mullin? In the first game, Steele freed his big men up and Xavier dominated the offensive glass when Mullin couldn’t adjust to high seals. Mullin will have noticed (maybe) that Xavier collapsed under late pressure in the first meeting. It’s up in the air who will adjust again,

Three keys:

- Jump out early: Xavier knocked down threes in the first game and built a lead they could ride late when the wheels began to wobble. That will be vital again today, as a Shamorie Ponds outburst is never far away.

- Dominate the glass: The Musketeers should win on the boards on both ends. Just winning won’t be enough though, the Johnnies gameplan around that. When these teams last met, Xavier grabbed 50% of their misses. Do that again and they have one foot in MSG on Thursday,

- Do whatever it takes: Is it a barrage of Elias Harden threes? Paul Scruggs getting his legs back under him? Naji erupting again? Q playing a game like he did in the Garden last year? Whatever it takes, Xavier needs to do it. Lose this game and the at large, already a pipe dream, vanishes.